Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
In 1931, the Houston Buffs rode the bat and arm of two future Hall of Famers to the Texas League crown. The pitcher, who would later become one of the certified characters-of-the-game, joined his batting teammate three years later to push their parent club to the world championship.
In the years after the Civil War, many amateur baseball teams began in Texas towns like Houston. In one 1867 match, the Stonewall club defeated a Galveston rival, the R.E. Lees, 35-2. Pro ball came 21 years later with the formation of the Texas League in 1888. Although winning the most games in 1889, Houston had to wait for a post-season ruling to claim the flag simply because the club had not paid its league dues on time. The next flag came three years later with a 59-26 club followed by another in 1896.
In the early 20th century, Houston won a pair of flags, but not in the Texas League. In 1903, dissatisfied with distances involved in journeying northward, the southern tier of clubs in the Texas League broke away to form the Class C South Texas League. Joining Houston in the new circuit were teams in Galveston, San Antonio and Beaumont. In the four-year history of the league, the Buffs won first half titles in 1904 and 1906, and both halves in 1905. In both of their first half wins, Houston was defeated by the second half champions, with the '06 series being lost amidst accusations of the Buffs' use of ineligible players.
In 1909, two years after both halves of the Texas League were re-united, Houston won the bunting by 6.5 games over Oklahoma City. The next year, the Buffs had apparently lost to Dallas by a game, but the league declared them co-champs following an argument over several disputed games. After a re-tooling year in 1911, the Buffs renewed their dynasty with two more wins in 1912 and 1913. The next season, the team was apparently locked in for a third, when Waco won a season-ending doubleheader, pulling the Navigators within half a game. After a disputed Houston win was thrown out, the Buffs had to share a co-championship for the second time in four years, despite winning 102 games, the league's highest total to date.
In the next decade, after the team had been made part of the St. Louis farm chain, the Buffs won a flag in 1928 with a 104-54 club. Three years later, they would return to the top with their most impressive team to date.
In the first half of the 1931 season, which ended June 30, Houston and Beaumont finished tied for first with 50-30 marks. The league constitution prescribed how the tie was to be broken. Five second-half contests were designated as playoff games. They also counted in the second half standings. Three day games were played in Beaumont, two night games in Houston. Houston won game one and the second game ended in a 15-inning 4-4 tie. The Buffaloes won game three, Beaumont game four and, finally on August 13, Houston took game five to capture the first half title. In the second half, Houston won the first game and was never out of first place, finishing 58-21, 14 games ahead of Beaumont. Houston having won both halves, no post-season playoff was needed.
Early in the season, on June 10, the Buffaloes were involved in one of the most bizarre plays in Texas League history. Homer Peel singled home a key run in Houston's 3-2 win over Dallas, yet wound up hitting into a triple play. With Eddie Hock on third, Red Rollings on second and Carey Selph on first, Peel hit a single to right scoring Hock. That was just the beginning. When the play was over, Rollings, Selph and Peel all had been put out on rundowns and a league record of seven assists on one play had been set. Dallas RF Cowboy Jones fielded the ball and threw to C Al Todd. Then the play went from Todd to 3B Pinky Higgins to 2B Ernie Holman to 1B Leo Cotter to Holman to SS Nick Urban and back to Holman for the final out. By an odd coincidence, four years earlier, Hock had completed an unassisted triple play, one of only two in Texas League history, while playing shortstop for Houston at Dallas.
| Dizzy Dean|
(photo courtesy of
Hall of Fame)
The Dixie Series opened in Birmingham with what local fans recalled years later as the best game ever played in the city. A crowd of 20,074 packed Rickwood Field and were treated to a 1-0 Barons victory as 43-year-old ex-major leaguer Ray Caldwell out-dueled 20-year-old rising star Dizzy Dean. It was the only start all year in which Dean did not strike out a batter. The Buffaloes came back the next night with a 3-0 four-hitter by Dick McCabe. Houston had received permission to "borrow" the 35-year-old McCabe, a 23-game winner for Fort Worth, when the Buffaloes' 20-game winner, Tex Carleton, was injured. After a day for travel, the series moved to Houston and the Buffaloes shut out Birmingham twice more behind George Washington Payne and Dean to take a 3-1 series lead. Then the tide turned. Clay Touchstone beat Houston 3-1 in game five. After five low-scoring games Birmingham hammered four Houston pitchers for 23 hits and a 14-10 win to tie the series. The Barons scored 10 runs in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 12-3 lead. The Buffaloes rallied in the late innings, but fell short. That set the stage for another start by Dean. He struck out five in the first two innings, but at the end of the eighth Birmingham held a 3-2 lead. In the top of the ninth the Barons scored three runs, two of them unearned. Houston had 13 hits off 35-year-old starter Bob Hasty and threatened in the ninth, scoring one run, but with one out, Caldwell relieved Hasty, struck out Joe Medwick and retired Peel on a grounder to second to end the game and bring the series title to Birmingham.
| Joe Medwick|
(photo courtesy of
Hall of Fame)
The '31 Buffs were managed by 38-year-old former National League outfielder Joe Schultz who had led Houston to second place in 1930. Between 1912 and 1925 Schultz hit .285 for seven teams, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, missing only New York. His best year was 1922 when he batted .314-2-64 in 112 games for St. Louis. Schultz began managing at Topeka (Western Association) in 1927 and joined the Cardinals in 1928. After finishing third with Houston in 1932 and Springfield, MO (Western League) in 1933, Schultz scouted for St. Louis for four years. He was a Pittsburgh scout in 1938, then was appointed the Pirates' farm director in 1939. In 1941 he was on a business trip for Pittsburgh when he was stricken with ptomaine poisoning and passed away on April 13. His son, Joe Schultz, Jr., caught for the Pirates and Browns during nine seasons from 1939-48, batting .259 in 240 games. He had made his pro "debut" in 1932 at the age of 13 when he was a batboy for his father's Houston team and was sent in to pinch-hit in a regular season game. He managed in the minors from 1952-62, was a St. Louis coach from 1963-68, then managed the Seattle Pilots in the only year of their existence, 1969, finishing sixth in the American League West. He coached for Kansas City in 1970 and Detroit from 1971-76. He finished 1973 as Tigers manager after Billy Martin was fired September 1.
Houston's top two hitters were outfielders Homer Peel (for average) and Joe Medwick (for power). The 19-year-old Medwick was in his second professional season on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career. He batted .305-19-126, playing all 161 games, and led the Texas League in total bases (308) and homers. It was while playing for the Buffs that Medwick received his nickname "Ducky." Local fans began calling him that because they thought his walk resembled a duck's. After another great year with Houston (.354-26-111) he arrived in St. Louis in September, 1932 and remained in the National League through 1948. He had a career average of .324 with 2471 hits and 1383 RBI in 1984 games. He led the National League in RBI three straight years, 1936-37-38. In 1936 he also led in hits and doubles. His 64 two-base hits is still the National League record. In 1937 Medwick set a National League record by leading the league in 12 offensive categories and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player. He led in batting (.374) and RBI (154) and tied for the lead in homers (31), the last National League player to win the Triple Crown. He was named to The Sporting News' Major League All-Star Team five straight years, 1935-39. Medwick played in ten Major League All-Star Games, 1934-42, 1944, batting .259. He batted .379 for the Cardinals in the 1934 World Series. In 1968 Medwick was elected to the Hall-of-Fame.
Homer Peel is a Texas League legend. He played in the league 14 years, the first seven with Houston, starting in 1924, and holds the league record for the highest career batting average, .325. In 1931 Peel hit .326-7-95 and followed that with an even better season in 1932, batting .337 and leading the league in hits (199) and doubles (52). He was drafted by the New York Giants and hit .257 in 84 games for the 1933 World Champions, going 1-for-2 in two games in the World Series. He returned to the Texas League in 1936 with Fort Worth and became the Cats manager when Harry McCurdy was fired in mid-season. In 1937 Peel hit .370-15-118, topping the league in batting, RBI and doubles (48), led Fort Worth to the pennant and became the only man in Texas League history to be selected for the All-Star Game as both player and manager. He managed Fort Worth the first three months of 1938, finished the season as a player at Toledo (American Association), then managed Shreveport in 1939-40 and Oklahoma City in parts of 1941-42. During World War II, Peel managed the Norfolk, VA, Naval Air Station team. He managed minor league clubs in Texas from 1946-52. In later years he was the groundskeeper at Shreveport's SPAR Stadium. In five major league seasons he hit .238 in 186 games. In his minor league career he batted .323 with 2,297 hits in 2,042 games. In 1982, Peel was elected to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. He once told Shreveport writer Bill McIntyre, "I didn't lose a thing in all the years I played baseball. I hit .322 my first year (1923 with Marshall, East Texas League) and .322 when I finished with Paris (East Texas League) in 1946." Peel was only 5'9 ½", 170, but Shreveport writer Jerry Byrd said, "Despite his size, he was as tough as they came. Once, playing for Syracuse in 1927, he was knocked unconscious by a bean ball in the first inning, but recovered quickly enough to drive in eight runs in the game."
Second baseman Carey Selph had Houston's second best average, hitting .322-3-88 and leading the league in runs (116). Selph spent all of his brief minor league career, 1926-34, in the Cardinals organization. He played two full seasons in the majors, 1928 with St. Louis and 1932 with the White Sox, batting .277 in 141 games. In five years with Houston he had a career .322 average and struck out only 137 times in 3,184 plate appearances. Selph followed Schultz as the Buffs manager in 1933-34, finishing first in 1933, but losing the first round of the playoff, and sixth in 1934. He left baseball after the 1934 season. Selph had been a baseball and football star at Ouachita (AR) College and was hampered by a trick knee which popped out of place without warning.
The Buffs' other league leader was speedy leadoff batter Ed Hock. He had the most AB (658) and led third baseman in fielding and double plays. He played nine years in the Texas League (1927-35), seven with Houston, two with Dallas, batting .275.
Houston's mound ace was the sensational 20-year-old right-hander Jay Hanna (Dizzy) Dean. Dean (26-10, 1.53) won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts (303). Those totals were the best of any minor league pitcher in 1931. In addition, he led the league in complete games (28) and set the Texas League record, still standing, for shutouts (11). Dean, the son of an Arkansas sharecropper, had enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and was signed by Cardinals scout Don Curtis who saw him pitch in a semi-pro game. In his first pro year, 1930, he went 17-8, 3.69 for St. Joseph in the Class A Western League, quickly moved up to Houston where he went 8-2, 2.82, then made his big league debut on the closing day of the season in St. Louis. He pitched a 3-1 three-hitter against Pittsburgh, giving him a season total of 26 wins against 10 losses. His Sporting News obituary says, "At spring training in 1932, Dean was something less than a shining example of punctuality. Manager Gabby Street rebuked him, then hustled him off to Houston." Dean, whose schooling ended with the fourth grade, was irrepressible, loquacious and boastful, but usually able to carry through on his bragging. In spring training of 1934, speaking of his brother, he announced, "Me 'n Paul will win 45 games." That proved to be an understatement. The pair won 49 in helping the Cardinals to the pennant. Dizzy went 30-7, 2.65, the last National League pitcher to win 30 games, and led the league in percentage (.811). No slouch at the plate, he tied a World Series record by getting two hits in an inning against Detroit, October 9, 1934. In the Series, won by the Cards, he went 2-1, 1.73. He again led the league in wins in 1935 (28-12). Dean led the league in strikeouts in each of his first four years (1932-35), a total of 768. On July 30, 1933, he set what was then the National League record for strikeouts in a game, 17, against the Cubs. Wrote The Sporting News, "The end of Dean's real effectiveness as a pitcher ended in the 1937 All-Star Game. A line drive by Earl Averill of Cleveland struck Dean on the toe, breaking it. Dean insisted on pitching before the injury to his left foot had fully healed and in the process changed his motion. Something happened to his arm and the shrewd Branch Rickey, Cardinals general manager, knew it." Dizzy finished the year at 13-10, 2.70. On April 16, 1938, Rickey traded Dean to the Cubs for pitchers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun and outfielder Tuck Stainback - and $185,000. The sore-armed Dean was able to pitch only 75 innings that year, but did go 7-1, 1.80, walking only eight batters, to help Chicago to the pennant. He went 6-4, 3.38 in 1939, getting by on guile, the great fastball gone. His pitching career ended in 1940 when he went 3-3, 5.17 for the Cubs and 8-8, 3.17 for Tulsa (Texas). He finished with a 150-83, 3.04 major league record.
Dizzy no longer could pitch, but he wasn't through with baseball. In 1942 he became the broadcaster for the St. Louis Browns and to say he was colorful was putting it mildly. His abuse of the English language, using such words as "slud (into a base)," "threwed" and "respectable (for respective)" brought complaints from school teachers, but most fans liked him. In 1947, during a game, he commented that the Browns looked "awful," which they probably did. Club president Bill DeWitt decided to sign Dean to a contract and announced he would pitch on the last day of the season against the White Sox. The Sporting News reported that "Dean worked four scoreless innings, giving up three hits and a lot of sweat off his now ample body. He got a hit in the fourth inning and slid into second base, pulling a leg muscle. As he got up limping, his wife, sitting near the dugout, shouted to Manager Muddy Ruel: 'Get him out of there before he kills himself!'" Dean later did the CBS-TV Game of the Week for several years and was a goodwill ambassador for Falstaff Beer. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. In 1952 a movie was made of his life, "The Pride of St. Louis" starring the late Dan Dailey as Dizzy and Richard Crenna, still very active in television, as Paul. Because of the shrewd handling of the family's finances by his wife, Pat, whom he married in 1931, Dean was able to enjoy a comfortable retirement. He died July 17, 1974.
41-year-old George Washington Payne (23-13, 2.79) led the Texas League in innings pitched (321) and games pitched (51), and was tied for second in wins. He completed 23 of 36 starts. Payne pitched for 27 years, starting in 1913. He had a career record of 348-262, 3.33 and ranks third among all minor league pitchers in total wins, games pitched (900) and innings pitched (5,324). While pitching for Wichita Falls he twice led the Texas League in wins, 23 in 1927 and 28 in 1929. His only major league experience was in 1920 when he had a 1-1, 5.46 record in 12 games for the White Sox.
Houston's other 20-game winner was 25-year-old right-hander James (Tex) Carleton (20-7), who was fourth in the league in ERA (1.89). Carleton pitched for the Cardinals in 1932-34, the Cubs from 1935-38 and the Dodgers in 1940. He had a major league career 100-76, 3.91 record. He pitched a 3-0 no-hitter against Cincinnati, April 30, 1940. Jesse (Pete) Fowler, 33-year-old left-hander, had a 15-8, 2.43 record and is part of baseball's historical trivia. He pitched one year in the majors, 1924, going 1-1, 4.41 for the Cardinals. His younger brother, Art Fowler, pitched for the Reds, Dodgers and Angels from 1954-64. They hold the record for two brothers making their big league debuts the farthest apart, 30 years. Art was a pitching coach for six American League teams between 1964 and 1988.
Eight Buffaloes were named to the 13-man end-of-the-year Texas League All-Star Team: Dean, Payne, Carleton, Selph, Hock, Peel, Medwick and catcher Hal Funk.
In its remaining 27 years in the league, Houston won six more regular season crowns, including a top 100 finish in 1941. After leaving the Texas League in 1958, the city fielded a team for three years in the American Association before placing its first team in the majors in 1962. Thirty-nine years later, Houston remains an integral part of the National League.
The 1931 Houston Buffs are considered one of the top teams in Texas League history. Since World War I, with the exception of the 1922 and 1924 Fort Worth champions, no other team in the league has been able to better the Buffs' 108 wins.
|1931 Texas League Standings|
|FT. WORTH||90||70||.563||18.5||SAN ANTONIO||66||94||.413||42.5|
|1931 Houston Buffaloes batting statistics|
|Billy Myers, Jr.||SS||44||127||12||31||17||7||2||1||9||34||2||.244|
|1931 Houston Buffaloes pitching statistics|